Deadly Genesis

Boomers #2

To save her sanity may cost him his mind…

Amanda Kincaid
Codename: Corkscrew
Abilities: nuclear fission and fusion, absorbs energy and fires beams of radiated heat
Mission: recovery of lost memories and sanity

Kidnapped and experimented on by R.E.X. labs, Amanda’s memories are foggy. She can’t recognize friend from foe and she strikes out with everything she has. Only one man penetrates the storms surging in her mind, a soothing stranger with hypnotic eyes…

Simon Masters
Codename: Soothsayer
Abilities: telepath
Mission: save Corkscrew or terminate her

Cautious, methodical Simon has always been careful to keep his innermost self, contained. Simon must confront his fears—and his deepest secrets—to help the powerful mutant rein in her abilities in.

With new enemies closing in and dark revelations unfolding, the Boomers face their greatest challenge yet and the deeper into her psyche Simon pushes, the more her madness threatens them all…

Winning never felt so much like losing. The team has recovered Corkscrew, but she is lost to insanity. Simon, the most cautious of them all, must risk everything to bring her back from the brink, but losing this gambit could cost them Simon as well.


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Read An Excerpt

Deadly Genesis, Chapter One


Simon Masters opened the front door with a push of his hand and the house shuddered. Glass trickled down from the chandelier hanging over the foyer in a tinkling shower of shattering pieces. Plaster dust floated in the air like snowflakes. Doctor Ilsa Blaine slid around the corner from the kitchen, blood trickling from a cut on her forehead.

Every cell in his body went on alert. He shut the door with a thump and strode across the hallway, adjusting his balance for the next shattering quake shaking the room. “What happened, Doctor?”

“The sedatives aren’t keeping her down anymore.” Ilsa flinched as another shatter echoed from the kitchen. Simon caught her arm, steadying her. Images flashed through his mind in rapid succession, despite his gloves and her lab coat. Her anxiety levels were too high to keep them out. He shored up his shields and tried to sort through the massive influx of data.

Amanda Kincaid, also known as Rory’s teammate Corkscrew, was awake. They’d rescued her a month ago from a research facility, but Ilsa’s attempts to correct the damage done by a faulty chip in her brain continued to fail. Winning never felt so much like losing.

“Where are the others?”

The house shook and a splinter appeared in the doorframe. A shout of alarm echoed from upstairs. Simon canted his head back. Sweeping the house, he identified five awake minds—none Boomers or Rory’s teammates. Fear seemed prevalent in the thoughts of four—but the fifth remained apathetic. Downstairs, however, Amanda’s thoughts were a cyclone of pain, confusion, frustration, and rapidly escalating fury.

“Rory called in. She needed backup—”But Simon didn’t hear the rest of the explanation. Amanda’s chaotic thoughts grew more agitated. Setting Ilsa against the door frame, he gave her a quick glance.

Stay here. If the wood splinters further, get out. He embedded the command in her mind and dodged the falling debris in the kitchen. Since her rescue, Corkscrew’s behavior grew more and more erratic. She lashed out, attacking anyone she didn’t know and, unfortunately, even some she did. Rory could talk her down, Rex could contain her and Drake could take her hits—but none of those three were present. Ilsa had made the difficult decision to put her into a medically induced coma while her brain healed.

But that didn’t seem to be working anymore.

The laboratory downstairs contained the latest equipment, and they’d expanded it for Ilsa’s research. The Hamptons mansion doubled as their medical facility since Ilsa joined their quest for answers. Her relationship with Garrett Fox and the peace she brought him aside, she was an invaluable member. Her knowledge of neuroscience and the workings of their bio-mechanical chips continued to provide them with data crucial to the completion of their mission.

Saving the future.

The stairs shuddered under his feet, and Simon swung himself over the railing to land on the floor. The lab was in worse condition than the upstairs. The clean room remained thankfully intact. But blood sizzled in a toxic swirl on the table, the remnants of Ilsa’s research into Garrett’s abilities and her desire to help him control it—that room would definitely need to be sanitized.

Located on the far side of the laboratory, the door to Corkscrew’s room hung open, half melted and destroyed. A flash of light shot across and he barely had time to tuck and roll before pain crackled across his shoulders. He saw her, standing in the center of the room, her eyes open wide and wild. Agony twisted her features and her thoughts swirled like a hurricane, lashing against his shields.

Another blast shook the house. She wasn’t quite focusing the force of her abilities—thankfully. If she had, she would already have shattered a hole through to the sub-basement. Gritting his teeth, Simon tried to get a read past the entangled thoughts thrashing in her mind, but what humanity he could sense there remained deeply hidden. Instinct drove her, not reason. The pauses between her attacks lengthened and he waited for the next burst of fierce energy. Thirty seconds passed and a bolt shot across the room, turning a chair to slag.

Surging upwards, he launched himself right into the line of fire.


She jerked and whirled to face him.


He stripped off his gloves and seized her bare arms. Heat raged across her skin like a too hot cup of coffee, not quite scalding the flesh on his palms.


Power thrummed through her, but only sparks fell from the tips of her fingers. He tugged her close and jerked her chin up. He didn’t need physical contact usually or line of sight, but the blackness flooding through her damaged mind choked him.



Amanda Kincaid. He punched her name through the tempest and drilled down to the glowing core he could see beneath the shadows. You’re safe. You must stop.

She struck him, kicking at his shins. While not as physically powerful as the other Boomers, her ineffectual blows couldn’t move Simon. He shunted past another electrical surge in her mind and darted through the tentacles of madness until he could cup his mental fingers around the spark of humanity.

Eighteen seconds…

Power built up in her, a cataclysmic surge of energy, and it wouldn’t be long till she reached overload. The research he did into her abilities suggested nuclear fission on a bio-chemical level—radioactive and dangerous.

Amanda Kincaid. He repeated her name, infusing the demand with a layer of request. Hear me. You are safe, but endangering others. You’re building to critical overload. You must stop.

The words barely penetrated the buffeting winds cycloning through her mind. The heat against his hands became almost unbearable. Three more times he tried.

Five seconds…

“I’m sorry.” He couldn’t risk another burst of her power. Closing his mental fingers around the spark, he cut off her autonomic functions. Her lungs didn’t work, her heart stopped, and she sagged like a broken doll whose strings had been cut. The moment unconsciousness took her, he released his grip and told her heart and lungs to function again. Cradling her close, he checked her pulse and blew out a sigh.

She still lived.

But if they couldn’t get her under control soon—he snuffed out the direction where that thought led.

Doctor Blaine… he called to Ilsa. She is unconscious again. I will put her in bed and then check on your other patients.

The doctor didn’t need any other encouragement. She descended the stairs with a light series of thumps. He tucked Amanda’s slight frame into the bed and brushed the wild profusion of blue hair away from her cheeks.

She really was quite lovely.

He didn’t want to have to kill her.



“This will sting, are you sure you don’t want a pain killer?” With the patients settled and Amanda tranquilized, the doctor turned her attention to Simon’s injuries. He stripped his jacket and shirt when he realized she wouldn’t let it go. The Boomers’ physiology, combined with the serum that had been injected in their own time, allowed rapid healing and reduced their chances for infection. But the doctor wouldn’t listen to reason, so he didn’t bother arguing.

She sponged the burned stripe across his shoulder and cleared away the peeling flesh. He stared through the damaged door to Amanda’s slumbering form. Her relaxed features revealed an attractive woman. The shock of blue hair aside, her skin seemed to shimmer like a collection of crystallized dust—or diamonds…

“Simon?” Ilsa leaned around to stare at him, her brow knitting into a frown. “Are you okay?”

“I do not need a painkiller, Doctor.” He shuttered his mental shields. He wanted to skim through Amanda’s thoughts while she slept, but that could wait for relative privacy. “I’m perfectly capable of closing down my pain receptors. Do what you feel is needed.”

“Men,” she grumbled and he kept his smile to himself. It had nothing to do with being male. Rory took greater injuries than this, and it took Michael to pin her down when the doctor wanted to stitch the wounds closed. The burn wasn’t life threatening.

Amanda was.

“What’s her status?”

“Unchanged from my last report.” Ilsa sighed and frustration edged the underbelly of the words. “The bastards should have just lobotomized her. It would’ve been kinder.”

“I thought the primary damage was caused by the chip’s malfunction?” At least that’s what the initial reports had indicated. He resisted the urge to reach directly into Ilsa’s mind for her thoughts. The ease with which he could sift through them would likely terrify her. Rory possessed a healthy fear of his abilities, but Ilsa didn’t seem to mind one way or the other—though, occasionally, she mentioned out loud her envy for his ability.

“It was and it wasn’t. Our first problem is that I don’t know the direct cause, so I can only diagnose based on symptoms and scans. It’s really hard to get an accurate MRI when she gives off a low level radiation.” She exchanged one sponge for another and then began to stitch up his shoulder. Apparently, the injury was deeper than he’d believed.

“And the second problem?” he prodded her, containing his own impatience. He liked to respect the privacy of others.

“The second problem is what I think she did to the chip herself.” The sound of the thread pulling through the slice on his shoulder rasped loudly in his ears. “The low level radiation she gives off? It melted the chip and, even though they are using a kind of bio-organic material, it doesn’t seem to be anything like the chips you all have.” Another rasp of needle and thread. “They had more metal than organics. That metal melted and some heavy metals can create a toxic reaction with the blood and further brain damage.”

“But her blood work was clean?” His gaze wandered back to the slumbering hero. Rory described her as vivacious and fun—a party girl. The two would “tear up the town,” often dancing the night away when they weren’t on call. He could see her dancing, swaying to an exotic beat in a dark club with pulsing lights. She probably prefers the clubs with the electric laser shows, so she can light up the room herself and no one notices.

He knew a lot about her, but not what her voice sounded like.

“The blood work isn’t clear at all. Remember, I’m not a phlebotomist, but her biology is different. Period. Even her red cells give off radiation, again, in low doses. But her cell walls don’t collapse the way another—a regular—human’s might.” Ilsa paused in her stitching and reached for a small pair of scissors. Simon tested the area, relaxing his mental blocks. Pain throbbed, but it wasn’t unbearable. He relaxed his vigilance.

“Ilsa…” He twisted to look at her, studying the doctor’s kind features. Deception didn’t seem to be in her DNA, a trait he could appreciate. “Can you help her?”

“I want to, and I’m trying. But I don’t know. I can’t even seem to keep her in a coma any longer. She burns through the drugs as fast as I can give them to her.” The doctor sighed and taped some gauze against the stitched burn. “I asked Rory about who they used for physicians. Maybe someone at the Infinity Corporation can answer these questions.”

“That’s a dangerous proposition.” The young hero went missing months before and Rory and her team hunted for both Corkscrew and Dark Angel with no success until Ilsa discovered her in the R.E.X. facility. Not knowing who to trust on either side of the aisle meant risking an alert going out.

“I know. But I’m running out of ideas.” She wiped a hand against her face and winced. The bloody cut on her forehead still oozed. “And Garrett’s going to have a fit.”

“Yes, he is. But he’ll understand. Just let him take care of you.” Simon did a mental check. The Boomers were on their way back. Frustration clouded Michael’s thoughts. The telepath sighed. Another fight with Rory. “Go check on your other patients, Doctor. I’ll stay with Amanda for now.”

“Are you sure?”

Simon rose from the chair and pulled on his shirt slowly. The pinch on his shoulder had already eased from when the doctor had begun tending the injury. “Yes, I’m sure. You cannot put her back to sleep should she wake, and it would be better for me to work here alone to repair the door. Go. They’ll be here soon.”

“Okay.” She closed the med kit and stared at the clean room. “I should probably leave that for Garrett.”

Simon nodded. It amused him how quickly the doctor had picked up on Garrett’s need to take care of her. She was especially precious to their poisoner, a man whose touch was toxic to everyone except her. “I would advise the same.”

“Then I’ll leave it—” She side-stepped the debris and headed up the stairs. Simon buttoned up his shirt and walked into the medical room. Amanda’s breathing remained relaxed and steady. Sliding his hands into his pockets, he stared at her. Compared to the earlier tempest, the quiet mind slumbering behind those closed eyes seemed like the calm in the eye of a storm.

Still studying her, he reached across the intervening miles to hone in on Michael’s mind and knocked lightly—the mental equivalent of a gentle tap. Yes? Michael’s thoughts focused on him.

There was an accident at the Hamptons house. Doctor Blaine is fine, but Garrett needs to spend time with her when he returns. The others should check on the rest of our guests.

Michael’s mental grunt let Simon know he digested the information. Corkscrew?

Yes. I’ll spend some time down here. Don’t let anyone interrupt me.

It wasn’t that odd of a request. When he planned to go deep into a mind, he always let Michael know. The Captain was the tacit leader of their team and, in addition to being a brilliant tactician and crack shot, he was a powerful anchor. His mental fortitude allowed Simon a focal point if he got lost in another’s mind.

We’ll be in range in ten. Wait till you can anchor, and I’ll keep Rory out. Be careful.

Simon released the link and retreated to his own mind. He used the time to clean up her room and pull off the rest of the door. They could replace it later. He couldn’t do anything about the wall damage, but he could remove the rest of the breakables—all three that survived her last fit.

The scent of coffee drifted down the stairs, but he ignored it. He would need the stimulant later. When the floor was swept and the last of the glass disposed of, he dragged a chair over to Amanda’s bedside. Sitting down he reached out a mental hand to Michael and tapped.

We’re close enough.

He didn’t really need the assurance—Michael’s mental voice echoed louder the closer the team came to the house. Trusting his brothers would take care of what needed to be done, Simon anchored himself and then took Amanda’s hand.

Down the looking glass we go…


Deadly Genesis, Chapter Two


Amanda stood on the lip of the cliff staring down into the swirling abyss below. The crumbling landscape coupled with the rocky debris below reminded her of some bad science-fiction film. Overhead, the stars stretched out as far as she could see, a carpet of diamonds against the velvet black. But no moon interrupted their flow. Below, boulders slammed together, rock grinding on rock, and disappeared into the whirling morass.

How the fuck did I get here? The thought dragged an elusive memory through her. Men in white coats. Pain. Bright lights. Hot lances of pain shafting through her mind.

Why haven’t they come for me? Her team would never leave her; so did they have them, too? Were they trapped, like her, in some hellish scene from a bad B-rated science fiction movie? Rubbing her hands against her face, she winced. Her hands, covered in blood, trembled. What the hell? Anger flared through her, punching through the craziness. She whirled around to look away from the precipice. Behind her—the image was the same.

“Son of a bitch…” The landscape fell away, boulders smashing into boulders, colliding again and again like some rock tumbler until they vanished over the edge. Heating the air around her, she closed her eyes and pushed up from the rock, but her feet remained glued to the escarpment. She couldn’t climb.

This made no damn sense.

“Amanda Kincaid.” Like warm liquid, the masculine voice wrapped around her. She turned in a fast circle, but no one was there.

Am I going insane now? And is it bad that I think insanity might be better than the alternative—like I really am stuck in some hellish dimension?

“Typically, when one can ask the question, it’s a good indicator that you aren’t insane.” Both alien and familiar, the man’s words sparked recognition deep inside her.

“Okay. I can hear you, but I can’t see you. Cute trick.” Fury cramped in her belly. Rage could fuel her abilities, but she couldn’t even muster enough spark to light up the darkness around her. She didn’t even understand how she could breathe in the vacuum of space she occupied.

“I’m here, but you’ve pinned yourself in pretty good. I can try to manifest, but I need you to remain calm if I manage it.” Patient, reasonable advice and it still managed to piss her off further.

“Who are you?” Was this one of her captors? Was this how they kept her contained? No matter how hard she tried to burn her way free, they kept sucking her back in. The Rory hallucination was overkill—but it likely came straight from her desire to be back with her team.

“Amanda, you’re safe. We rescued you from the facility where you were being held captive.” Again with the aggravating patience. “Rory has been here several times. She’s talked to you and held your hand.”

She hadn’t said her name out loud. What about Josh? Curtis? Ronan? Where are they? She waited. Did they have her hooked up to some machine twitching and ticking out every thought passing through her mind?

A soft laugh.”You are a hard one. No, there is no machine. I’m a telepath.”

Oh hell no. She closed her eyes. Fire blaze, fire burn… Repeating the mantra over and over in her mind, heat flooded through her. A match stroke against the surface inside her skin and power lit her up. Her heart squeezed, she couldn’t breathe, and blackness bludgeoned her.



She roused to the fragmenting landscape and groaned. Her head hurt and her chest burned. A flash of movement caught her eye and she rolled over. A large, blond man sat cross-legged on the ground next to her, his head tipped to the side. The dispassionate coolness in his eyes warmed when their gazes collided. “I thought we should try this again, but you need to stay calm and not light up or you’re done.”

Something hard and unforgiving in his tone warned her he wasn’t playing. Head screaming, she scraped her nails against the rock and pushed herself upright. She wouldn’t lie down to talk to him. “You’re a telepath.”

“Good. You remember that much. I’m not really here—not physically. I am sitting next to your bed in the infirmary where you’re being treated.” He studied her as though giving her time to process the information. It sounded easier than it actually was.

“Okay. Who are you?”

“My name is Simon Masters. I’m a friend of Rory’s.” The corner of his mouth twitched up a fraction.

“Prove it.” She thought about making jam. Her grandmother liked to can her own fruits. She spent many an autumn day at her side in the kitchen as the jam bubbled on the stove—always adding an extra teaspoonful of sugar to the recipe, because that’s where the love came from she used to say.

“She sees possibilities and takes unflinching risks with her own personal safety. She’s loyal to a fault and stubborn as hell. A few months ago, she came after us—or, perhaps better, we came at odds because she thought we had something to do with your disappearance. While we didn’t, she is a valuable person and a worthy ally.” A very pretty package of words.

Amanda raised her eyebrows. “That’s all you got?”

“Her full name is Aurora Graystone. She’s also known by the moniker Halo—a name she has failed to explain to anyone. She is a truly gifted hand-to-hand combatant and successfully took down our strongest member. She is roughly one hundred and sixty-two centimeters in height. She has black hair, deep blue eyes—though they appear more indigo than blue.” Uncanny description, but he could still have gathered that data from research.

Simon sighed, irritation pinching the corners of his eyes. “I am not sure what else will satisfy you, Amanda. I need you to trust me long enough to listen.”

“Well, I’m listening right now.” She folded her arms and tried to ignore the twinge in her muscles. Her chest ached as though a thousand-pound weight sat on it. She didn’t glance down, but she wouldn’t be surprised to find a litter of bruises across her flesh. Thankfully, dream state or mental state or whatever this was, she had her clothes on.


She studied her bare legs. She wasn’t just wearing clothes—she wore a skimpy dress. Dark and form-fitting. What she wore the day she went to the club and…

And what? What happened to me? I went dancing and then I was here…but there were other places, too. Her memories fragmented, crumbling like ashes and falling away before she could fully grasp them. Like the landscape around her, her mind rebelled against the fading information. Simon’s hand touched her leg and jerked her back to the present.

“Stay with me for a moment. You were a prisoner for some months. We’re not sure of everything that they did, but we do know they tried to insert a microchip into your brain. The chip is used in behavioral modification. We can only presume they sought to control you and your abilities.”

She would not freak out.

He gave her a small smile. “We located you a little over a month ago. Our doctor, Ilsa Blaine…”

Rory’s roommate? Amanda remembered her vaguely from picking Rory up at college when they first began training in The Program.

“Yes. Her college roommate. She’s a neuroscientist and she designed the chips—”

Ilsa did this to her? Not freaking out grew harder.

“—no, she didn’t. She designed the chips. The company she worked for abused the technology.” The telepath followed all the frantic leaps her mind made. “But you suffered from seizures and possible brain damage.”

Yeah, so not freaking out. She sucked in a shaky breath.

“We’ve attempted to wake you up, but you panic and react. You almost blew up the medlab a little while ago. Ilsa tried to keep you in a medically induced coma, but that doesn’t appear to be an option with your metabolism. Waking you has some inherent dangers, and we don’t know the full impact of the mental impairments. I can help you wake up and buffet you—”

“How?” She dug her nails into her palms.

“Telepathy is just a label for what I can do. Are you familiar with any types of psionics?”

“No.” She shook her head. “I am still not convinced you’re not some delusion or trick being played on me by my captors.” Fear coalesced in her gut. Images flashed through her mind. Men in scrubs and face masks looming over her. A drilling noise. The smell of smoke. Bright lights over her head. She ran her fingers through her hair, searching for—what?

“Unfortunately, I can offer you no other proof than waking you up. But, if I do that, you have to fight to stay cognizant of what is happening, where you are, and not just lash out. There are others in the house—others you can gravely injure, not to mention yourself.”

Amanda licked her lips. “And if I say no?”

“Then you will leave me with few alternatives. You are very dangerous in your current state, and it will break Rory’s heart if you die.”

Her heart thudded against her ribs, a painful reminder. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Trust me. I won’t let you fall.” How compelling was this man, that she wanted to believe him even if she didn’t know him. That alien-familiar sensation tugged at her insides. “Amanda, it’s very simple.” He rose to his feet in one graceful surge and extended his hand to her. “Live or die. Your choice.”

She stared at his hand.

“What the hell…” Her fingers glided across his palm, and he closed his hand around hers. Electricity surged through her, and the shattered landscape clicked together like some mad game of Tetris, solidifying around her. The stars faded, the sky turned blue, and grass filled in all the gaping holes between the crumbling rocks. They floated upwards and she sat up abruptly. The cold air tasted of ozone and frost and burned her lungs.

Simon sat next to her, holding her hands. His blue eyes opened. He looked a hell of a lot better in person than in her head. A chiseled jaw, a hint of a dimple and the blond hair was like pale flax, perfect against his warmer skin. The hospital room wasn’t familiar, but it seemed normal if one ignored the scorch marks on the walls and the buckled and twisted door frame. Sitting up slowly, she looked down at their joined hands and her too skinny wrists. Instead of the skimpy dress, she wore an open backed hospital gown. Her tan was gone from her legs—all faded and pale. She curled her knees and pulled her legs closer.

God, she needed to shave them.

Swallowing took effort, like she couldn’t quite remember how to tell her muscles to do it.

“Hello there.” The warm-whiskey-on-a-cold-winter’s-night voice tingled through her. Delicate flutters shivered over her skin.

Moistening her lips, she took a deep breath. “Applesauce.”

Her eyes widened. Okay, now I’m freaking out.



Ilsa—the doctor—shone the light in each of her eyes, muttering under her breath. Most doctors seemed to make the same kinds of humming noises when they did a check up. It must be a verbal shorthand they learned in school. “Now I want you to look straight ahead and tell me when you see my fingers.” She leaned in and drew back slowly, holding her index fingers parallel with Amanda’s ears and then drawing them back until they showed up.

“Crispy.” Son of a bitch. I didn’t say crispy, I said now. She didn’t get it. She thought the word “now,” but it came out wrong. At least she could tell it was wrong. What would verbal salad sound like if she didn’t recognize the flaw in it?

You’re doing fine. Simon stood just a few feet behind the doctor. Rory leaned on the door frame and another man stood just behind her, tall, dark and ominous. He stayed on the periphery, but everything about him warned her to keep her distance. He wasn’t a friendly. He’s worried about Rory. Michael can be intense, but he means you no harm.

The doctor went back to muttering, so Amanda spared a look at Simon. At least you can understand me.

He gave her a small smile. The barest tilt to his lips gave his grave expression a hint of sweetness. She bet he looked stunning when he really smiled. The corners of his mouth nudged higher. She sighed. Okay, yes, you heard that. But if you eavesdrop with impunity, you have to just live with it.

Understood. His slow nod was both grave and polite. And thank you.

She shook her head and sighed. “Grow ditches in the village.” What the hell is wrong? She gave Simon an imploring look, and he translated.

“I’m not sure. It could be directly related to the issues with the chip. I removed most of it, but I want to start you on some medication to bind any metal still in your system. Do you have any allergies?”

“Pontoons.” No. Yeah, this shit got old quick.

“Okay, sit tight. Let me see what I can put together. I may need to have Garrett bring in some supplies. I also want to reattach those I.V.s and continue your fluids. You’ve lost a great deal of weight and—do you know when you ate last?”

“Pussbuckets.” No. But now that the doctor asked, she didn’t notice any hunger. Her stomach didn’t hurt and her mouth wasn’t dry.

“Hunger might not be an issue. We’ve had you on nutrition and fluids since we got you here, but a feeding tube could have sustained you if you were unconscious. But let’s start with liquids. I hope you like soup.” Ilsa rose and slid her penlight back into her pocket. As she swung away from the bed, her hair slid away from a white bandage on her forehead. Amanda caught her arm.

“Dog in ham chicks?” Did I do that?

Simon translated and Ilsa smiled, covering Amanda’s hand with her own. “It was an accident. I’m fine. Now sit tight, let me go check on the medication I want to get ordered, and then we’ll get you a new banana bag.”

Rory didn’t wait for Ilsa to clear away before sliding onto the other side of the bed. She wrapped her arms around Amanda and they hugged like long-lost sisters. For the first time since she woke, Amanda relaxed. Rory was familiar. Rory was family. Dark eyes stared into hers as she leaned back. “You’re going to be fine, okay?”

“Zipit.” Yeah. She sighed and rubbed a hand against her face. Rory pushed the hair away from her and grinned crookedly.

“Yes, you will. Because I need my best friend back, not to mention all the shoes you missed this fall. I can’t begin to tell you the boots I found for you.” The twinkle in her eyes didn’t disguise the concern or the sadness. But Amanda summoned up a smile. “And maybe I picked up a pair or three in your size…”

Behind her, the man in the door snorted.

Her teammate just waved a hand. “Ignore him. They don’t understand the value of a fabulous pair of shoes.”

Right now, I’d just be happy with the value of speaking sense. She glanced at Simon. Can you let her hear me, too?

He nodded once. Go ahead.

Thank you. She looked at Rory. They took Ronan.

Simon frowned. You need to let us…

“I know they took Ronan. We’ve tracked him to somewhere in Khazakstan. But R.E.X. has changed a lot of their protocols. Josh and I want to head there, but the others aren’t so sure until we have solid intel.”

Who are they? Amanda didn’t look at Simon, her attention riveted on Rory.

“They’re friends. You can trust them. I do—with my life.” That was one hell of an endorsement. Rory didn’t trust easily or without cause. “As for the rest, we’ll go into that when you’re better. Right now we focus on getting you well and back in the fight.”

Exhaustion crept up over her, and she leaned back against the pillows, still holding Rory’s hand. She didn’t want to go to sleep. What if she did and woke up in that hellish place again? Or worse—found out this was all a dream, some warped fantasy she filled the hours of her incarceration with?

It’s not a dream, Amanda. If you go to sleep, I will still keep watch and keep it together for you.

Yeah, that’s not creepy. Total stranger—granted, a hot stranger—accessing her most intimate thoughts.

It’s only as creepy as you let it be, Amanda. I will do my best to respect your privacy. But you need the help right now.

Yeah. Or else.

He didn’t sigh, but she could almost read it on his expression. The grim patience amused her. She had to wonder what got under his skin. Rory cleared her throat and Amanda glanced at her, and blinked slowly. She had almost forgotten she was there. “Zippers.” Sorry.

“No worries. You need to sleep and I need to go argue with Michael some more about this plan. We’ll figure it out, okay? I think Curtis and Josh will be here late tonight or early tomorrow to see you. And…honey, I didn’t tell your parents that we found you yet. They still think you’re off on one of your wild bohemian journeys of self-exploration—shagging rock stars and the like. But we don’t know if R.E.X. is watching them, or if someone else is, and we don’t want to lead them back to you.”

It was for the best. Her parents didn’t know anything about her other life, and she liked to keep it that way. The blue hair, the wild trips and disappearing for weeks on end were part of her modus operandi. It protected her very middle-class, middle-American parents from the truth.

Thank you.

Rory gave her another squeeze, a lighter one this time, as though afraid she might break her, and then she was on her feet and gone. The respite didn’t last long. Ilsa returned and set up the I.V. bag and the coldness spread up her arm slowly. She watched every move the doctor made, but Ilsa did nothing without explaining it first.

So much better than being restrained, pressure wrapping around her skull and her hands trapped inside heat sinks—heat sinks. They’d drained her power as fast as she could build it up. The terrifying images cut through her mind like a torn film, skipping over the gray empty places. How the hell had they known that would work to contain her? She didn’t have to fire out of her hands—but I always do. That’s how I harnessed it—focusing with my hands.

Simon waited for the others to leave and walked back over to take a seat. He watched her. Always watching. Giving you the time to yourself…you’re right though, the memory indicates they knew how to bottleneck your offensive capability.

Cheery thought. Her eyes burned with fatigue, and she let them fall closed.

No, not really. Simon’s mental voice sighed. Sleep. I will keep the demons at bay.

Can you get to them? Those empty gaps that I can’t seem to feel? Even her mind seemed to slur the words, forming them sluggishly.

Sleep. We will discuss it later. The order chafed, but she drifted too far away to respond. The rock waited for her, but it was green and covered in flowers. She smiled.

Simon sat there, quiet and authoritative—almost like a sentinel warding away the unknown. No dark skies or crumbling landscape. It made her feel better.

Which was something.